For most visitors it is the iconic red dunes of Sossusvlei and the NamibRand that define Namibia. And no matter how many photos and documentaries you have seen, nothing prepares you for the splendour of a sunrise or a sunset in this unique environment. Namibia’s second most popular destination (after Etosha National Park) this dramatic southern section of the country is a must do for all first-timers to the region.
It’s a 60km drive from Sesriem, the gateway to Sossusvlei, to the 2x4 car park at the end of the tar road, from where shuttles transfer those without 4x4s to the trailhead for Dead Vlei. Backed by the highest dunes in the area, the eerie vlei, with it’s cracked, white clay floor and skeletal, dead camelthorn trees, is usually the first stop before visiting the vast pan of Sossusvlei, created when the shifting dunes of the Namib smothered the Tsauchab River.
A bird’s eye view of the wind-honed ridges and curvaceous lines of the sea of dunes is an unforgettable experience so it’s worth taking a sunrise balloon ride, a scenic flight or a hike up one of the high dunes. And leave time to explore the Sesriem Canyon, carved through the layers of conglomerate rock by the Tsauchab River, near the entrance gate.
The Namibrand Nature Reserve, to the south of Sossusvlei, offers a very different, more exclusive experience. One of the largest private nature reserves in southern Africa, it showcases a fascinating variety of game species in a brilliant setting. Majestic oryx, kudu, giraffe and endearing bat-eared fox set against the red and golden dunes are a photographer’s dream. Intriguing ‘fairy circles’ create polka dots on the landscape and the dunes harbour a rich array of endemic lizards, scorpions, beetles and spiders that are revealed on guided tours. Overnighting in the carefully designed lodges and camps in the reserve is an incredible treat. Thanks to efforts to conserve its exceptional night skies, the reserve was recognised in 2012 as Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, so is the perfect place to view the twinkling stars.